Friday, September 25, 2020

A Basic Guide to Sake


If you’re a Sake beginner like me, join my webinar with Amelia Singer, Rie Yoshitake (Sake Ambassador in the UK) and Sorakami (quality Sake retailer) on 8th October 2020 at 8pm (UK time). Register HERE 

Sake is a mystery to me, so I’ve read a bit about it to put together my basics guide to Sake, to help you choose a bottle to taste along with the webinar. Sources are quoted at the end – if you find any errors or you would like to add more detail, please comment below. You can do a Sake course with WSET if you would like to learn more. 


“Sake” means alcoholic drink in Japanese. “Nihonshu” is the Japanese word for what we call Sake. It is known to be refreshing and for its umami flavour.

Four things are needed to make Sake – rice, water, koji and yeast:

  1. Sake is fermented rice. The rice “sakamai” is different to table rice and has a higher level of starch. The starch is in the centre so the rice is polished, or milled, to reveal the pure starch. The more polished it is, the better the quality, and this is how it is graded.
  2. Water is important as the purity and pH of the water used affects the quality of the sake.
  3. Koji, a cultivated rice mould, breaks down the starch into sugars.
  4. The yeast converts the sugar into alcohol. Like in wine, the type of yeast used encourages different aromas.

The alcohol level of Sake is 14-20% which is high for a fermented drink. Sometimes alcohol is added for balance and to increase the intensity of the aromas. Acidity is lower than in wine.

Sake becoming popular as with the increase in popularity of Japanese food, and Sake cocktails are popping up as mixologists seek interesting combinations of flavours. Sake can also be added to cooking. Sake has a delicate umami flavour so pairs well with Asian food and earthy dishes like wild mushroom risotto.


There are many varieties of sake, many more than I will describe here, but as an introduction here are some terms you should know:

  • Junmai – no added alcohol or sugar (so is considered “pure”), polished to at least 70% of original volume, a rich, full body and some acidity. Serve warm or room temperature. Junmai is often used alongside another term, such as Junmai Ginjo (which is pure with 60% polishing).
  • Ginjo – Polished to 60% of original volume, light fruity, complex, fragrant, and easy to drink. Generally serve chilled.
  • Daiginjo – Premium Sake polished to at least 50% of original volume, with light complex aromas. Serve chilled.
  • Nigori – Cloudy, coarsely filtered, may have very small bits of rice floating in it, sweet and creamy.
  • Sparkling – made sparkling by secondary fermentation (similar method to Champagne), tends to have lower alcohol levels, and best served chilled.
  • Nama – unpasteurised.
  • Koshu – aged
  • SMV – number on the label indicating sweetness level, with 5+ being dry and 2- being sweet
  • Umeshu – green plums and rock sugar are added for flavour and sweetness… can be added to Champagne as a great alternative to a Champagne Cocktail or Bellini!

When weighing up which to buy, one tip I read was to buy a lower polishing level from a premium brand, rather than a high polishing level from a cheap brand.


Generally, aged sake has rich flavours so should be served warm. Sake with delicate flavours should be served at room temperature. Fruity sake should be served chilled. If you’re warming it, please heat gently so as not to disturb the aromas.

Traditionally Sake is served in small pottery cups, small glasses, or wine glasses for chilled Sake. Store Sake like wine – in the cool and in the dark. Drinking within a year of purchase. Once opened, to store close tightly and keep in a cool place and drink within one month. Keep Ginjo in the fridge to retain fruity flavours.


We have partnered with Sorakami to offer a selection of Sake to suit all tastes. If you’re not sure, pick the Gingo.

  1. Kamoizumi Nigori Summer Snow (Cloudy) - rich & creamy, serve cold
  2. Tedorigawa Kinka Gold Blossom (Daiginjo Nama) - full & clean, serve cold
  3. Kamoizumi Shusan Three Dots (Junmai) - woody, serve cold or warm
  4. Koshi no Kanbai Tokusen (Ginjo) - light and clean, serve cold

Order HERE

“Kanpai” (cheers)!



Friday, February 7, 2020

How to buy wine at £6 - getting value for money

This morning I was asked to share my tips for buying wine at £6 with BBC Radio 5 Live. The previous guest slot overran so I had two minutes to talk and ran out of time before getting my five tips across. Therefore, I thought I'd write a post to share what I was planning to say.

The price of wine is increasing. With high duty costs and the weak pound, the average bottle price is predicted to tip over £6 at some point in 2020. More than half of UK adults aren't willing to spend over £6 per bottle, so how can you be a savvy shopper at this price point?

First up, it is important to say that all wine that is imported into the UK is of at least acceptable quality (the trade scale being Poor - Acceptable - Good - Very Good - Outstanding). A lot of wines around the £6 level are of Good quality, including the main brands found in supermarkets. Some of those brands make very good wines along side their entry level brands, such as Wolf Blass or Casillero del Diablo. This is called brand laddering - where a brand will provide different wines at different price points in the hope you will buy the different levels for different occasions. Their cheaper wines are often good value for money because they want to build trust in the hope you will move up a level. At the £6 price point brands also look to deliver consistency, so you can be sure if you buy another bottle it will taste the same.

So, my top tips...

  1. Buy wines from lesser-known countries as these can provide better value for money. For example, you could buy Pinot Noir or Pinot Grigio from Romania or Moldova. Or you could go for native varieties, such as Fateasca Alba or Fateasca Neagra. If you want to stick to countries you know, then go for lesser-known regions, such as Languedoc in France or Sicily or Puglia in Italy. Or consider countries like chile or Argentina who deliver good value for money because they have lower labour costs so can keep the price of wine down.
  2. Bag in box wines and single-serve bottles or cans can help too. Bag in box tend to have cheaper per bottle prices, but of course they have a higher initial outlay. Cans can cost more per ml, but they have lower price out of pocket.
  3. Bulk shipping, where wine is transported in special containers and then bottled in the UK, is increasing, and quality is improving, so look out for the UK postcode on the back of the bottle.
  4. Discounters, like Aldi and Lidl, and the Co-op are making their mark with their wine selections and can offer very good value for money.
  5. Check out wine writers recommendations in newspapers, they can often highlight wines at the £6 price point.

However, it does all come down to personal preference, so you should find what YOU like. At one of my pop up wine bars I served a flight of Aussie Shiraz, one wine was £6, another £10, and the third £15. I was able to help people identify the benchmarks of quality - balance, complexity, intensity and length, and how to identify what THEY preferred. The higher end one had beautiful oak ageing, but some people preferred the simple £6 wine.

For every £1 you spend you are improving the quality of the wine, and its not linear. If you spend £5 on a bottle of wine, once you've paid for tax, bottling, marketing etc you are left with 50p spent on the actual wine. Whereas if you spend £10 on a bottle of wine, you will get £3 worth of wine. So sometimes it is worth splashing out on a bit more to drink better wine, and when doing so it might be worth asking knowledgeable staff to help guide you so you walk away happy.

Don't be fooled by offers, the offer price has usually been agreed with the winemaker upfront, so that is the value of the wine. That said, if you find a wine you like that's above your usual price point, then do keep an eye out for when it goes on offer.

If you do buy cheap wine and you're a little worried what others might think, then if its white, make sure you chill it right down before serving as this will dampen the aromas, or add a dash of sparkling water to make a spritz. If it's red, then decant it (pour it into anything, a jug even, then back into the bottle) as this will soften the wine. Or serve with cheese - everyone's favourite pairing! - as the cheese will coat the tongue so your guests taste less of the wine.

And above all, don't worry too much, wine is to be enjoyed!